The keel has been laid for the US Navy’s 11th Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport ship, the future USNS Puerto Rico (EPF 11), at Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Alabama.

The keel-laying ceremony marks the start of the vessel’s construction phase. The EPF will serve as the third US Navy ship to be named after the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Program Executive Office Ships Strategic and Theater Sealift programme manager captain Scot Searles said: “We are honoured that Justice Sotomayor is able to participate as the ship sponsor in this major production milestone.

“Our industry and navy teams are committed to delivering this highly capable platform and today’s milestone marks our progress towards delivering operational flexibilities to the navy force.”

“We are honoured that Justice Sotomayor is able to participate as the ship sponsor in this major production milestone.”

The US Navy’s EPF transport ships are non-combatant vessels designed to operate in shallow-draft ports and waterways.

The vessels offer increased operational flexibility for a wide range of operations, including manoeuvre and sustainment, relief operations in small or damaged ports, flexible logistics support and enabler for rapid transport.

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Capable of interfacing with roll-on / roll-off discharge facilities, the ships can support on-loading and off-loading vehicles such as a fully combat-loaded Abrams main battle tank.

In addition, the vessels feature a flight deck that helps support day and night aircraft launch and recovery operations.

The 337ft-long EPF 11 has a displacement of 1,670t and can travel at a speed of up to 43k.

Ship manufacturer Austal recently successfully completed acceptance trials on the future USNS Burlington (EPF 10) in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship is scheduled to be delivered to the US Navy later this year.